I think that it is fair to say that most of us were taken aback by the audacity of the action. A few short weeks prior to the November presidential election, it was announced that the Internal Revenue Service was investigating the NAACP to see whether they had violated their tax exempt/tax deductible status (their 501(c)(3) designation). The reason? Allegations were raised that in his speech to the NAACP National Convention this past summer, Chairman Julian Bond had raised critical remarks regarding President Bush and his administration.

Did you get that? Raising critical remarks about President Bush!? If we are to understand this challenge, the IRS seems to be saying that during an election year, criticisms of a candidate (or perhaps, just of the administration in power) violates the tax status of non-profit organizations. I am trying to figure out what ever happened to freedom of speech. While it is true that there are restrictions on those non-profit organizations that have a 501(c)(3) tax status, those restrictions are to prevent them from engaging in partisan political activity. In other words, the NAACP cannot endorse a particular candidate, nor can it call upon the electorate to not vote for a particular candidate. It can, however, criticize policies of a candidate or an administration; at least that is the way that it is suppose to work.

The NAACP, as you probably know, has made criticisms of parties in power and parties out of power. There was nothing new under the sun with Julian Bond launching a criticism of the Bush administration.

He has been doing this on a regular basis. So, as a matter of fact, have a lot of other people. It takes no Einstein to understand what is unfolding. The Bush administration, through the IRS, was sending a very clear signal that dissent or criticism would not be tolerated, regardless of from what quarter it originates.

It matters not whether you are a member of the NAACP, or whether you disagree with the NAACP. It matters not whether you voted for President Bush or whether you voted for Senator Kerry. What matters at this critical moment is your attitude toward the Constitution and the question of democracy. If the IRS is allowed to persecute the NAACP, then there is no stopping this administration from squashing debate. There is no way that a reasonable person could conclude that Julian Bond and the NAACP violated their tax status. Had he stood before the convention and endorsed Senator Kerry or told the listeners to avoid voting for President Bush, he would have been in violation of federal regulations. This did not happen. You know it, the IRS knows it, and most especially, the Bush administration knows it. They have chosen to not let facts stand in the way of their decisions. Given this state of affairs, you and I need to stand in favor of the Constitution.

Sometimes one is called upon to speak out regardless of the consequences. We should know by now that silence never stopped tyranny. It never has and it never will.

If you want to take a stand, you can write directly to the IRS, or you can use the OMB Watch site at the following URL: capwiz.com/ombwatch/mail/oneclick_compose/?alertid=6642526.

When is enough enough?

Bill Fletcher Jr. is president of TransAfrica Forum and co-chair of United for Peace and Justice.
Reprinted from Sacramento Observer / National Newspaper Publishers Association with permission of the author.